In an effort that shows tremendous bipartisan support, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation last month to reauthorize the Second Chance Act. An identical bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.)
The act, originally passed into law in 2008, supports state and local reentry programs that reduce recidivism. The introduction of the current bill – S. 1690/H.S. 3465 – comes at a time when the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering ways to reduce prison costs for federal, state and local governments. The Second Chance Act intends to help lower those costs by improving prisoner reentry efforts and ultimately decreasing the number of repeat offenders.
“Rather than incarcerating repeat offenders in the same families generation after generation, we can put our taxpayer dollars to better use to break this vicious cycle and turn lives around,” said Portman, a former prosecutor. “The ultimate goal of our criminal justice system is to make our families and our communities safer. The work done under the Second Chance Act helps us to accomplish that goal, one life at a time.”
Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013 provisions
The Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013 reauthorizes the law for five more years. Key provisions include:
- Providing support for planning and implementation of key reentry projects to ensure that those projects use methods proven through testing and review to lead to meaningful reductions in recidivism rates.
- Offering grant funding for creative job training programs.
- Expanding eligible applicants for several programs to include nonprofit organizations.
Emphasizing results-oriented outcomes, the bill gives priority consideration to applicants that conduct individualized post-release employment planning, demonstrate connections to employers within the local community, or track and monitor employment outcomes.
In reintroducing the Second Chance Act, Senator Leahy reaffirmed his belief in its goals. “Investing in community-based reentry programs prevents crime, reduces prison costs, improves public safety and saves taxpayer dollars. It is also the right thing to do,” he said.
“This important legislation improves federal reentry policy and funds collaborations between state and local corrections agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, service providers and families to ensure that former offenders have the resources and support they need to become contributing members of the community. “
If reauthorized, the act will continue to build on its success. Thanks to this legislation, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Juvenile Justice was able to fund more than 100 grants that totaled more than $62 million during the current fiscal year. And since it was passed five years ago, it has awarded more than 600 grants to government agencies and nonprofit groups.
These grants support improved probation, parole and reentry programs throughout the U.S. and include mental health and substance abuse treatment initiatives, technology career training programs and juvenile reentry efforts.
Second Chance Act success stories
Some of these programs funded by grants under the Second Chance Act offer examples of what they can accomplish:
- Harlem Parole Reentry Court – This project under the auspices of the Center for Court Innovation of the New York City Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator is geared to those who are of medium to high risk of reoffending. It works with case managers, judges and others to develop an individualized reentry plan stressing employment, and the program’s participants have higher employment rates than their peers who aren’t enrolled.
- Project Reconnect – This program, operated by the Girls Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma, helps incarcerated women who will be returning to Tulsa upon release maintain contact with their 5- to 18-year-old children. It does this by bringing those children for bi-weekly visits with their mothers and on the weeks in between offers parenting classes to the women and educational instruction to their children.
- Wisconsin Tribal Community Reintegration Program – The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, together with the state’s Department of Corrections, has created this program to provide culturally relevant social services focusing on employment, substance abuse and legal issues. It serves American Indians who are deemed to be of medium to high risk of reoffending and will be returning to one of Wisconsin’s three Indian nations – the Oneida, Menominee or Stockbridge-Munsee.
What you can do
Reauthorizing this act is expected to continue to make profound and positive improvements in neighborhoods across the nation and in the lives of those in reentry who live there.
Contact your senators and Congress members and encourage them to cosponsor S. 1690/H.R. 3465, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013.